In the second of our features from the city nicknamed ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Jess Baldwin (and her mother) get immersive with Bordeaux’s contemporary art scene evident, it seems, from their hotel. Well, why wouldn’t you park a motorbike in a bedroom…?
Dating. It’s a funny old game, isn’t it? The smallest signals and signs can tell you so much about a person. I recall one date, almost four years ago, where I sauntered (okay, nervously tottered) towards a lavish London bar to find a smartly dressed man, suited and booted, joking with the barman in French. I still have absolutely no idea what he was saying, or why he was showing off his French in Covent Garden (flashy bugger), but I do know those dulcet French tones had me weak at the knees.
I also know, that when I eventually paid a visit to his house, I was horrified to walk in to what seemed to be the ultimate country bachelor pad; wrought iron chandelier, check. Animal skin rug, check. Illuminate Ducati motorbike, check. And I hadn’t even stepped through the front door. Warning bells rattled around my disappointed head as I kindly asked to be shown to the guest room and I told myself not to touch this playboy with a barge pole.
When I moved in three months later, I didn’t give two hoots where my clothes were supposed to go, the first thing on my agenda was to get rid of that bloody Ducati – honestly, a motorbike in the hallway, imagine!? After three years of my nagging we finally parted ways, the bike and I. Hurrah! So, you can imagine my horror when I recently perused my next foreign fling, a mother and daughter weekend, only to see a Harley Davidson proudly posing next to one of the beds. Thank god it was in Bordeaux – at least I had gallons of fantastic wine to help me through.
Having arrived at this mysterious hotel in the dead of night, mother and I were greeted by a charming man who ushered us towards our suite. ‘Ooooh, there’s just something about the accent, isn’t there’, she said, as she rolled her eyes in ecstasy behind the poor chap as we followed him in to our room. The whitewashed suite was enormous and incredibly minimalist with just the odd piece of feature furniture or statement artwork and two incredibly high illuminated beds demanding the centre of the room.
My mum giggled as she took stock of the fully mirrored walls dotted around, “Ooooh, you could certainly have some fun in here with the right person couldn’t you!” Gradually I clocked the dimly lit corridors, the aptly placed mirrors and our leather lounge. Days later a man casually confirmed “Oh yes, this is the hotel for your mistress, not your wife”. I am not sure what distressed me more, the fact that my mother had realised first of the fact that I had brought my mother to the sexiest hotel in France. And with that revelation I hit the sack, with my silk nighty-clad mother at my side.
The next day, pushing the night’s revelations to the back of my mind, I felt like a child on Christmas morning willing their parents to wake up, desperate to rush down stairs and find out what treasures awaited. Having arrived in the pitch black I was eager to summon our electric blinds to open so I could see what views lay behind, with panoramic windows taking up almost half of our enormous suite I knew it must be pretty special. In fact, it turns out that the confusingly high beds are actually a different height in each room, in order to create the perfect view from each bed – well, when you spend most your weekend romping around in the thing I guess it makes sense, hey.
But, alas, mother continued to snooze. Biding my time I indulged in an aromatic Hermes bath, I knew something was unusual, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. At least not until I saw my very own treasure chest staring back at me. At the end of the bath stood a floor to ceiling mirror, I was beginning to see wat she meant. Eventually, having heard movement in the bedroom I eagerly ran in and pushed the magic button, opening all six of the electric blinds in a grand reveal. Beneath, the hotel’s vineyard sloped down towards La Garonne River, giving way to a delicate mist rolling across the city of Bordeaux.
Located in the affluent town of Bouliac, Le Saint James boats a prime position in ‘the balcony of Bordeaux’. Designed by iconic architect Jean Nouvel, the contemporary hotel has 15 rooms and 3 suites spread across four pavilions, each connected by black art-adorned walkways that feel more like art galleries than hotel corridors. Sitting alongside the village church, the hotel’s stylish rusty exterior is a nod to the region’s tobacco drying barns.
As the mist cartwheeled beneath us and revealed a beautiful blue sky, we hot-footed it down to breakfast, for Bordeaux was calling. Unsurprisingly breakfast was divine (Oh, didn’t I mention, this saucy pad has a Michelin starred restaurant). The restaurant itself is tiered across three levels reminiscent of a theatre, with floor to ceiling windows of those views playing centre stage.
Each morning our theatrical waiter Philippe marched across the dining room with our freshly steaming coffees and the adorable waitress, Celine hand-carved us smoked salmon slices, fresh from the filet and served them with a perfectly poached egg and slice of toasted brioche (Okay, and a fresh fruit salad…and a croissant…and a pain au chocolate. What? I was in France, you’re lucky I didn’t have a glass of red!).
Suitably satisfied we wound our way through the hotel’s dramatic art-adorned corridors and grabbed a taxi in to town. Just fifteen minutes away, Bordeaux’s buzzy left bank has undergone a radical transformation in recent years. Today, the once run down and frankly grubby port town proudly displays its elegant eighteenth century facades once more and its streets are now littered not with rubbish, but with historic monuments and contemporary sculptures. Its centre has become a captivating nest of alleys and streets packed with independent boutiques, bistros and cafes. Our starting place was the most photographed site in Bordeaux; the Miroir d’Eau – honestly, they just can’t get enough mirrors around this neck of the woods. The enormous granite slab, covered in a thin layer of water creates a dramatic mirror, perfectly reflecting the elegant Place de la Bourse.
Having spent the morning mooching around quaint Rue St James and Rue du pas St Georges, where independent jewellery shops mingle with small boutiques, we strolled along La Garonne in search of lunch. As luck would have it, Bordeaux’s very own ‘Taste London’ style food festival, Bordeaux S.O. Good, was in town and having swapped our euros for prized tokens we wiggled our way through the busy event. In London, you stroll past Singapore noodle stands and Chinese dim sum stalls, past swish sushi and French fayre to good old British pub grub and god knows how many ‘fusion’ joints. It is somewhat simpler in Bordeaux, the enormous event had around one hundred stalls, almost all of which solely provided either foie gras, cheese, macaroons or wine. Well, as they say in Bordeaux, if it ain’t broke…
Back at the hotel we decided it was time for a spot of wine tasting and where better to experience it than in the chic hotel bar. Despite the designer surrounds the bar has a welcoming vibe and our Autumnal visit the log fire was blazing, overlooking the hotel’s very own vineyard. A modest size, on a good year the 950 vines can produce up to 600 bottles of their exclusive merlot. Richard, the hotel’s dapper wine expert proceeded to produce a map of the region and talk us through all of the different local wines on offer. “Gosh, he is so… passionate, isn’t he?” said mother. I rolled my eyes amused. “It’s the way they wear their scarves, isn’t it, it’s so different to English men. It just…works,” she said, with complete sincerity. And with that I shrugged…and ordered more wine.
As wonderful as the wine is, it is the food that is the star of the show at St James. Local chef, Nicolas Magie runs the Michelin starred restaurant with precision and finesse and whilst oozing creativity, the dishes pay homage to the local area. The restaurant was completely full on our visit and we were excited to be seated on the lowest level of this elegant tiered restaurant, alongside what has to be one of the country’s largest windows. As the sun set, it was magical to watch Bordeaux beneath as it gradually began to come to life and sparkle in the distance as we embraced dish after dish of world-class cuisine. At one point throughout the evening, the staff turn off all of the lights, to encourage all of the couples to tear their eyes away from their date for two minutes and take in the view, perfectly framed.
On my last night I risked insomnia and slept with all of the blinds open. How could I not, I had fallen in love with that view. What can I say, it just had that je ne sais quoi. Its constant evolution was almost hypnotic, I went to sleep with the city’s lights sparkling beneath me, I watched its skies change from an intense midnight blue through fifty shades of grey to a delicate dusky pink and I awoke to watch the clouds cartwheeling across the city beneath me. And there was me thinking our suite would see no action.
Le Saint-James is a 4* gastronomic hotel located 10km from Bordeaux. It is just 20 minutes from Bordeaux airport and is a member of the Relais & Chateaux collection. Rooms start from E195 per night. For more information visit www.saintjames-bouliac.com.